An unassuming forward chases the puck to the boards, with thoughts of breaking out on an odd-man rush.
But just as he puts his head down smack!
An opposing player jars some screws loose in the forward”s head with a huge body check, knocking him off the puck and changing the momentum of the game all at once.
Energizing the team with a bone-crushing hit is Michigan forward Jed Ortmeyer”s trademark. But the torn ACL he suffered Jan. 23 against Notre Dame will keep him off he ice until next season.
It”s not the only redeeming aspect of his game, as the sophomore is also known for his timely scoring along with being one of Michigan”s most consistent two-way players.
But certainly Ortmeyer”s workman-like mentality and physical presence is what most other teams will remember, especially the day after.
“For him not being one of the biggest guys in the league, he”s probably one of the hardest hitters a lot of teams know that,” freshman Joe Kautz said. “With him being gone it”s a big loss because he also contributed to power play, penalty kill and dished out the biggest hits on the team.”
Many CCHA teams are realizing that one of the keys to beating Michigan”s highly-skilled team is physically beating them up. Come playoff time, someone will need to pick up the slack, along with the smack.
“We have to set the tone,” said Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson. “We can”t let the other team set the tone. When we play physical, when we”re banging the bodies and causing teams to make mistakes we”re much more effective.”
Kautz, J.J. Swistak and Dave Wyzgowski are a trio of Michigan forwards that take pride in putting their bodies on the line for the team, and enjoy doing it.
“We have that mentality,” Kautz said with a smile. “Some guys enjoy hitting. And I enjoy hitting and so does J.J. and so does Ortz. I mean I”d rather make a big hit than score a goal most of the time.”
Kautz only has one goal in his young career, but that”s not uncommon for his role. The trio has combined for just two goals and seven points all season.
Pearson admits that Kautz, Swistak and Wyzgowski were not primarily recruited for their offensive abilities, but rather for their “size and physical presence.” This can help them create room in the corners, scoring chances for teammates and momentum for their team.
“I just try to get a big hit just to fire everyone up,” said Swistak, who has taken Ortmeyer”s spot on the third line. “Maybe if we”re down or the bench is quiet, I try to go out there and give some emotion.”
In fact, Swistak says that he and Kautz often talk while on the bench, pushing each other to make something happen on the ice.
They know that while they don”t often light the lamp, their specialty on the ice is often more rewarding than scoring. Could a huge hit have an even more influential effect on a game than a goal?
“That”s absolutely 100-percent the truth,” senior defenseman Bob Gassoff said. “It might not show up right away on the scoreboard, but the team that”s outhitting the other team, nine times out of 10, is going to be the team that ends up winning.”
Not only can a resounding body check light a fire under a team, but it can also change the way its opponent approaches the game.
“It puts some indecision in some guys” minds that “Boy I”ve got to pay the price to make sure I”ve got to get that puck and make a play,” Pearson said. “And they get nervous.”
Nervousness often leads to sloppy play and turnovers. It causes many players to bring a more tentative mentality into a sport where the scared get hurt.
The only road block in the unyielding attempts for “taking someone”s head off” according to Swistak is the possible consequence of ending up in the penalty box which could be a momentum changer of its own.
But not everyone sees the invisible line in the sand they prefer to let their game speak for itself.
” I don”t think there is too far to go,” Kautz said. “If a guy”s not looking the right way or has his head down he”s going to get blasted.”